Lucy the Elephant

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This article is about Lucy, a six-story architectural creation. For Lucy, the Asian elephant, see Lucy (elephant).
Lucy, the Margate Elephant
Lucy the Elephant, National Historic Landmark, November 20, 2011
Lucy the Elephant is located in Atlantic County, New Jersey
Lucy the Elephant
Lucy the Elephant is located in New Jersey
Lucy the Elephant
Lucy the Elephant is located in the US
Lucy the Elephant
Location within Atlantic County. Inset: Location of Atlantic County within New Jersey.
Location Margate City, New Jersey
Coordinates 39°19′14.33″N 74°30′42.85″W / 39.3206472°N 74.5119028°W / 39.3206472; -74.5119028Coordinates: 39°19′14.33″N 74°30′42.85″W / 39.3206472°N 74.5119028°W / 39.3206472; -74.5119028
Built 1881
Architect James V. Lafferty
NRHP Reference # 71000493
NJRHP # 383[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP August 12, 1971[2]
Designated NHL May 11, 1976[3]
Designated NJRHP April 7, 1971

Elephant hotel redirects here. For the National Historic Landmark located in Somers, New York, see Elephant Hotel.

Lucy the Elephant is a six-story elephant-shaped example of novelty architecture, constructed of wood and tin sheeting in 1881 by James V. Lafferty in Margate City, Atlantic County, New Jersey, United States, two miles (3.2 km) south of Atlantic City, in an effort to sell real estate and attract tourists.

Today, Lucy is the oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in America.[4] Visitors may take guided tours through the building, starting at the spiral staircase in the left rear leg, up into the interior, then up stairs at the side to the howdah. At the top, visitors can enjoy views of Margate, the Atlantic City skyline, and the Atlantic Ocean.


In 1881, the U.S. Patent Office granted Lafferty a patent giving him the exclusive right to make, use or sell animal-shaped buildings for 17 years. Lafferty paid for the building of his first elephant-shaped building at South Atlantic City, now called Margate. He employed Philadelphia architect William Free to design the building and a Philadelphia contractor constructed the structure at a cost of $25,000 - 38,000.[5] Originally named "Elephant Bazaar", the building is 65 feet (19.7 m) high, 60 feet (18.3 m) long, and 18 feet (5.5 m) wide. It weighs about 90 tons, and is made of nearly one million pieces of wood. There are 22 windows and its construction required 200 kegs of nails, 4 tons of bolts and iron bars, and 12,000 square feet of tin to cover the outside.[5] It is topped by a howdah carriage, also known as a hathi howdah.

Lafferty brought real estate customers up a narrow spiral staircase from within the elephant's body to the howdah, where he could point out real estate parcels available for sale.[6] Lucy's head shape identifies the building as an Asian Elephant, and its tusks as a male. In its first few years, the elephant was referred to as a male, but today it is now generally considered to be female.

The structure was sold to Anton Gertzen of Philadelphia in 1887 and remained in the Gertzen family until 1970. Sophia Gertzen, Anton's daughter-in-law, reportedly dubbed the structure "Lucy the Elephant" in 1902.[5]

Lafferty built at least two more elephant-shaped buildings, though neither survives. The Elephantine Colossus or Elephant Hotel, at Coney Island amusement park in Brooklyn, New York, stood 122 feet (37.2 m) tall, with seven floors of rooms, and legs 60 feet in circumference. It held a cigar store in one leg and a dioramic display in another, hotel rooms within the elephant proper, and an observation area at the top with panoramic sea views. It burned down in 1896. Another, officially named Light of Asia (dubbed Old Jumbo by locals), opened in Cape May in 1884, but was generally unsuccessful and torn down within 15 years.[7]


Over the years, Lucy had served as a restaurant, business office, cottage, and tavern (the last closed by Prohibition). The building was depicted on many souvenir postcards, often as "The Elephant Hotel of Atlantic City." (The hotel was in a nearby building, not in the elephant itself.)

By the 1960s, Lucy had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition. In 1969, Edwin T. Carpenter and a group of Margate citizens formed the Margate Civic Association, which later became the Save Lucy Committee under Josephine Harron and Sylvia Carpenter. They were given a 30-day deadline to move the edifice or pay for its demolition. Various fund-raising events, the most successful a door-to-door canvass by volunteers, raised money. In 1970, the building was moved about 100 yards to the west-southwest and a bit inward from the shoreline. The building was also completely refurbished. The building's original wooden frame was buttressed by a steel one, and the deteriorated howdah was replaced with a replica. A plug of green glass set into the howdah platform refracts light into Lucy's interior.[8]

In 1972, Lucy appeared in the movie The King of Marvin Gardens, starring Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern.

In 1976, Lucy was designated a National Historic Landmark.

In 1980, Lucy can be briefly seen in the opening of the film Atlantic City.

In 1983, a postcard with a picture of Lucy on it is shown briefly in the opening credits of the film, National Lampoon's Vacation.[9]

In 1986, Fred Rogers took a tour of Lucy on an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. [10]


HABS image

The building's birthday is celebrated with children's games and much fanfare each July 20 or on the following weekend.

An episode of The History Channel television series Weird U.S. featured Lucy.

A Lucy-inspired structure is featured as the boudoir of Nicole Kidman's character in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge.

In 2006, Lucy was struck by lightning, blackening the tips of the tusks. That November, the building was prominently featured in an advertisement for Proformance Insurance.

Lucy was featured in the 2009 television show Life After People, which illustrated how the environment would take over the structure without people to maintain Lucy.

In a 2011 episode of Boardwalk Empire, which takes place mostly in Atlantic City, Agent Van Alden mentions "a hotel shaped like an elephant" among the local attractions.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Margate. Lucy remained unscathed, although part of the surge reached the building's toes and a booth in the parking lot was blown over.[8]

Lucy was featured in the 2012 book Stay Close by Harlan Coben (ISBN 1101561173).

The June 14, 2014 episode of The Travel Channel's Monumental Mysteries featured Lucy the Elephant.[11]

April 18, 2015: Lucy is featured in the Bill Griffith daily comic strip "Zippy the Pinhead".

In 2015, similar to the original movie, Lucy is featured in the opening credits of the remake of the film Vacation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places - Atlantic County" (PDF). New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection - Historic Preservation Office. June 2, 2011. p. 5. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  2. ^ National Park Service (2006-03-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  3. ^ "Lucy, The Margate Elephant". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2008-06-23. 
  4. ^ Jacobs, Emma (July 11, 2015). "Elephants Never Forget — And At 6 Stories Tall, This One's Unforgettable". NPR. Retrieved October 8, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c McMahon, William (1988). The Story of Lucy the Elephant. Margate, N.J.: Save Lucy Committee, Inc. p. 40. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Tischler, Susan (2016). "What Happened to South Cape May?". Retrieved September 28, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b Fears, Danika. "Historic landmark 'Lucy the Elephant' survived Sandy". The Today Show. NBC News. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  9. ^ "Lucy the Elephant". Retrieved 2015-03-26. 
  10. ^ "TheKidsMagic - Mr. Rogers Episode #1570". 1986. Retrieved October 7, 2016. 
  11. ^ "Lucy the Elephant". Monumental Mysteries. The Travel Channel, LLC. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 

External links[edit]